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BMC chief reverses predecessor's decision

Saturday, August 20, 2011
By A DraftCraft Correspondent

Mumbai municipal commissioner Subodh Kumar, in a rare decision, overturned former civic chief’s decision that gave away a huge plot in Bandra (E) to a developer for Rs. 100 crore so that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) can repossess the plot.

The 42,693-sq-ft Shastrinagar plot, owned by the BMC, is currently is being used as a retail market. In 2009, the former municipal commissioner, Jairaj Phatak had given the permission for Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRS) on the plot. Reportedly, current civic chief Subodh Kumar overturned the decision and excluded the plot from the redevelopment scheme. This ensured the plot was reverted to BMC’s possession.

According to BMC’s records, the plot in question is reserved for the ‘existing retail market’. In 2009, Phatak accepted an approval, which was for development of the land under the SRS scheme along with the neighboring 28,756 sq-ft encroached land. The plot that has been in existence from 1980 and is called Shastrinagar municipal market has 60 licensed shops and one fish shed.

The slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) had earlier granted its approval for the integrated slum scheme for both plots on the basis of a 3rd March 2003 report submitted by the assistant commissioner (H/East ward). Reportedly, the ‘entire market plot’ - retail market with the encroached portion, had been declared as a ‘slum’ in 1976, and included names of the 60 municipal licences in the list (annexure-II ) consisting of slum dwellers eligible for rehabilitation.

The encroached plot has been reserved for ‘extension of the retail market.’ The members of Shastrinagar Municipal Mandai Vyapari Seva Sangh, an association formed by the municipal licencees objected to their inclusion in the scheme as they are ‘legal and lawful tenant of the BMC’ and therefore could not be categorised as ‘slum dwellers’. The construction on the plot had already started when these ‘tenants’ objected being included. The Sangh demanded the existing market portion be excluded from the slum scheme. “Consent of individual members of the Sangh was not obtained at the time of approval,” the outfit argued. They said the ‘no-objection certificate from the market department hadn’t been obtained.’

In their argument they said that only eight per cent of the existing market plot has slum encroachment, while 30 per cent is occupied by legal licencees and the fish shed and the rest lay vacant. But Phatak had, then ruled that the scheme was ‘in order’.

After accepting the approval granted to the scheme, Phatak directed the BMC’s development plan (DP) department and SRA to take further action for the scheme’s implementation. He accepted the approval after discussions with the-then SRA chief executive officer Srikant Singh. The chief engineer (DP) granted a no-objection to the proposal the same day.

Back then, the former additional municipal commissioner Kishore Gajbhiye had argued against the inclusion of the existing market in the scheme and said an independent redevelopment would be more profitable. The BMC’s market department, too, opposed the approval.

The Sangh later challenged the approval before the state-appointed high-powered committee for slum projects, which in turn referred the matter to the SRA CEO. S S Zende, the current SRA CEO, after hearing both sides on December 1, 2010, left it to the BMC to decide on whether the existing market plot should be excluded from the SRS. At the hearing, advocates for the developer had argued the scheme had been legally approved for both the plots after following the due process of law and that annexure-II issued by the assistant commissioner included the licencees.

The advocates claimed the Sangh had passed a resolution on April 24, 2003, appointing the developer to undertake the slum scheme. The developer claimed that in 2006, it even entered into an agreement with eligible slum dwellers, including Sangh members, for shifting to transit shelters.

On April 1, 2011 the chief engineer (DP) recommended the exclusion of the market portion from the scheme. “Records reveal the market was constructed and commenced operation with 59 licencees in 1980. The NOC from the markets department, which is mandatory, was not obtained. The licencees cannot be termed as slum dwellers,” said the report.

The additional municipal commissioner Manisha Patankar-Mhaiskar, on June 7, 2011, submitted another report stating that independent redevelopment of the market would be a more profitable option. Based on these reports, Kumar overturned Phatak’s decision. The assistant commissioner (H/East) has been asked to remove licencees’ names from the annexure-II list.

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